New perspective on familiar city

Sarah Ladik/Times-Herald Moose Jaw Pride executive director and tour guide for the evening Joe Wickenhauser (left) passes the microphone to Blanche Gaudreau at the end of the trolley tour on Thursday.

Former taxi-driver, member of LGBT community reacts to Hidden Histories Trolley Tour

 

Blanche Gaudreau drove a cab in Moose Jaw for 22 years. She knows every street, every alley, and every lane like the back of her hand.

“All the years I spent here…. I thought I knew Moose Jaw,” she said. “But I’ll never look at it the same.”

Gaudreau is also part of the LGBT community in Moose Jaw, and at the end of the first Hidden Histories Trolley Tour run on Thursday evening, she spoke a little about her life and the people she has met along the way.

“It’s a real eye-opener,” she said. “I used to park my taxi on River Street, and it was dark so people couldn’t see me, but I’d see people I knew, see people cruising, I guess.”

The trolley tour, put on by Moose Jaw Pride and Tourism Moose Jaw, takes riders through town, telling them stories they probably don’t know about places with which they are very familiar. Ranging from an overview of two-spirit Indigenous traditions in pre-contact history, to the heady days of Moose Jaw’s bootlegging era, the protests of the 1970s and the struggles and successes of current LGBT community groups, the tour invites participants to see public spaces in a new way.

The Snow Hut, for example, used to be where many would go for their fix of more risqué literature. At a time when being gay was no longer actually criminal but still far from accepted, the act of owning gay smut was subversive in and of itself.

“I drive by there all the time,” said Gaudreau, laughing. “And I’m never going to see that place again the same way.”

Moose Jaw Pride executive director Joe Wickenhauser told the Times-Herald earlier this week that encouraging people to see their city differently was the entire purpose of the tour. Those stories, he said, were kept secret for years and decades, and can now be shared with not just the local LGBT community, but the wider community of Moose Jaw as well.

That history — and LGBT people in general — Gaudreau said, have of course always been here. She believes that in some ways it was easier for women in same-sex relationships than men, at least when she moved to the city 25 years ago.

She met many people while driving her cab, including a gay man who became a dear friend. Gaudreau said they talked on the phone every day, and that one of those times, he begged off early to “put things away” before his family came into town. Gaudreau told him he shouldn’t have to hide who he was.

“There are leaders and there are followers,” she said. “At one time, I think I was a follower, but now I think I’m a leader; a trailblazer. I am who I am, and I’m not sorry for it.”

That outlook was evident as Gaudreau stood up in front of a trolley full of people and told some of her stories, cracking jokes as she went.

“The tour was enlightening,” she said. “Very enlightening.”

Tickets for the trolley tour are $10 and it runs again Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m., starting out at the corner of River Street and Main Street North.